|Artist Michael Heme‚Äôs at his art opening at Magnet. His abstract images alternated with scenes of strong, raw male sexuality. Photo by Rink.
Now through the month of August, Magnet art gallery is displaying ‚ÄúVisceral Worlds,‚ÄĚ the intricate, often erotic, colorful works of Michael Hemes. A New York state native, he moved to Fresno and then to the Bay Area. Most of his drawings are done with colored pencil on paper. The term ‚Äúchiaroscuro‚ÄĚ is the traditional technique he employs in his works. This is the use of highlight and shadow to render a three-dimensional image on a two-dimensional surface. Hemes said these works evolve through two very different approaches. ‚ÄúMost of my colored pencil drawings serve as a practice in spontaneity,‚ÄĚ he explained. ‚ÄúExclusively a stream of consciousness-based process, these drawings evolve intuitively, and organically. Figure/ ground relationships may become clarified - or remain ambiguous. Since colored pencil is essentially inerasable, each mark is a little leap of faith that some unidentified muse is silently guiding my hand to create beauty.‚ÄĚ He added, ‚ÄúMore recently, though, I‚Äôve been newly exploring more representational works, which generally start with a sketch of the subject, whether live or photographed.‚ÄĚ
When asked what was his inspiration, he replied, ‚ÄúMy abstract drawings are born out of a passion for sensuality of form, richness of color, and compositions that often suggest movement or metamorphosis of random life forms.‚ÄĚ He continued, ‚ÄúWhile usually not overtly sexually suggestive, much of my work has a sensual, erotic feel or flavor.‚ÄĚ He said his representational works celebrate the beauty or symbolism of actual forms in nature.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm also approaching these drawings as a form of art therapy,‚ÄĚ he said. More on that later.
His work has been directly influenced by the works of Georgia O‚ÄôKeefe, Ernst Haeckel, and the saturated colors of Wayne Thieboud. Many images are reminiscent of cartoonist B. Kliban‚Äôs Genitals of the Universe. He said, as a gardener, plants and the rest of the natural world are always sources of conscious or unconscious inspiration for Hemes.
As to his personal philosophy, he said his abstract drawings attest to his belief in art for art‚Äôs sake/ beauty for beauty‚Äôs sake. ‚ÄúFor whatever is inspiring or aesthetically engaging in any way is intrinsically healing,‚ÄĚ he noted.
Also a recent Hep C diagnosis and the decision to start the treatment have underscored the value/ role of art therapy in his healing process.
He said he wants viewers to come away - after seeing his works - with delight, amusement, sensual pleasure, and in turn inspiration and healing. ‚ÄúI glean much joy from this work, and it‚Äôs an extra bonus when others do as well,‚ÄĚ he told me.
Hemes gave me a tour of eight of his pieces. Regarding ‚ÄúHep C Virus‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúLiver with Healing Chord,‚ÄĚ he said he has been HIV-positive for about 15 years, but a recent Hep C diagnosis and the decision to start the treatment has motivated him to consider the concept of art therapy. ‚ÄúI created these drawings to help me grok the virus‚Äôs physical form and to conceptualize a healing visualization,‚ÄĚ he said.
Concerning ‚ÄúCreation Myth,‚ÄĚ he said, ‚ÄúThis is the first drawing in many years that includes a figurative component. The piece started out as abstract, but when random shapes suggested a human form, I accentuated it.‚ÄĚ After ‚ÄúCreation Myth‚ÄĚ evolved, it seemed odd to him, as a gay male, he hadn‚Äôt used the male form as a subject. ‚ÄúIt begged the question, ‚ÄėWhy not? Have fun!‚Äô It challenged me to do the most representative drawing to date. It was exciting to use the same techniques to render something beautiful and familiar.‚ÄĚ Thus came ‚ÄúVeinglorious,‚ÄĚ which is a perfect pun on the priapic penis.
After ‚ÄúVeinglorious,‚ÄĚ he said he wanted to do a bridge piece, ‚ÄúEngaged,‚ÄĚ which was based on a pornographic image (docking comes to mind), but abstracted through composition and unrealistically saturated colors. ‚ÄúI am looking forward to pursuing more of these images, which may be only covertly erotic,‚ÄĚ he confided.
Regarding ‚ÄúBarnacle Extrusion,‚ÄĚ he commented, ‚ÄúI love its earthy colors and the rendering of the texture and jagged edges.‚ÄĚ Concerning ‚ÄúOrbits in Heat,‚ÄĚ he said, ‚ÄúI love this piece just because it is quite different from the rest - water color washes enhances the colored pencil work and the technique is much more 2-D, more line/ mark-based than form-based. Hemes said ‚ÄúHatching Pods‚ÄĚ was very complicated in being lightly sketched first. He pointed out, ‚ÄúI love the transparency of the ‚Äėmembrane‚Äô and the animated, biological qualities of the emerging pods.‚ÄĚ Often the last step in his drawings is adding the shadows cast by one object onto another, which visually locks in the spatial relationship of the various elements.
Hemes said his favorite piece was ‚ÄúAlgae Orgy,‚ÄĚ explaining, ‚ÄúI love how it embodies Dr. Seuss inspired silliness, and that these randomly created forms seem to possess personalities.‚ÄĚ It truly does feel Seussian.
His final comments were: ‚ÄúI‚Äôm grateful to Magnet for giving me the springboard to finally exhibit this work and see it displayed en masse.‚ÄĚ You too can have this exhilarating experience at the Magnet health and social wellness hub on 18th and Castro Streets all through August.